Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Opinion

Georgia is facing the abyss, and calls on EU for help

  • On Monday, special forces stormed the headquarters of the United National Movement to arrest its newly-elected chairman, Nick Melia (Photo: UNM/Twitter)

Georgia, once recognised as a bright pupil in the group of countries embraced by the EU's Eastern Partnership Initiative, is quickly turning into yet another failed attempt to transform the post-Soviet space into functioning democracy.

On Monday (22 February), the special forces stormed the headquarters of the United National Movement to arrest its newly-elected chairman, Nick Melia.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Police used gas against peaceful protestors, vandalised the building and stole the UNM main server and archive (Photo: UNM/Twitter)

The move will deepen the political crisis unfolded by the decision of the governing Georgian Dream party to rig the parliamentary elections in October 2020.

Politically-motivated justice, the capture of state institutions by the private interests of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who declared his intention to exit politics, but remains the only decision-maker, running the country from shadows, rapid socio-economic decline, and increased corruption, all are making Georgians hopeless about their future.

When Germany authorised on-line registration for applying for seasonal jobs, a few days ago, over 50,000 Georgians have applied within the first few hours.

That seems to suit well the ruling party, Georgian Dream, with no plan for developing Georgia's desperately poor economy, if the unhappy leave the country, reducing the protest electorate, it only plays into their hands.

Only the Georgians are not ready to give up their country so quickly, as the majority, some 60 percent, voted for change in the October parliamentary elections.

But that does not matter to the governing party, the election summary protocols, rewritten by the government-controlled election administration, decided that Ivanishvili's party won.

Negotiations between the government and opposition, mediated by the EU and US diplomatic missions, have not delivered any results - no agreement has been reached either on ending politically-motivated prosecutions or new elections, two key demands of the opposition.

The plot has now taken a new twist, with the arrest of one of the most popular politicians in Georgia, Melia.

The case against Melia was opened in the summer of 2019, when together with other opposition leaders and hundreds of thousands of citizens, he protested against the appearance of the Russian communist MP, Sergyi Gavrilov, in the Georgian parliament.

The demonstration ended in violent and bloody dispersal.

Earlier this week the one-party parliament stripped Melia of the parliamentary immunity for the second time, having done so already in the summer of 2019, opening a way to prosecution.

Prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, who just a few months ago led Georgian Dream's election campaign, decided to resign, rather than authorise the forceful detention of Melia, whose supporters have organiwed a peaceful picket line for his protection around the UNM headquarters.

Ironically, the same parliament refused to satisfy the appeals for resigning their seats, filed by Melia and 56 other opposition MPs, including myself, only a week earlier.

As the ambulances were lined up in front of our party headquarters on Monday morning, together with Melia and some 1,000 people in the building, representatives of all opposition parties, youth movements, supporters, and friends, we waited for the arrival of the special forces and prepared for the worst.

The prime minister resignation and strong messages of our Western friends and partners, not least the decision of the ambassador of Lithuania to visit our party headquarters, have delayed the dramatic turn of events by two days.

The choice of the governing party for the new prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, whose two 'virtues' are complete loyalty to Ivanishvili's family and fierce determination to eradicate the opposition, will certainly not contribute to depolarisation and consensus-building.

His first decision was to authorise a forceful entry into the UNM headquarters and arrest of Melia.

The new PM, borrowing Vladimir Putin's language of 'sovereign democracy,' has also dismissed attempts of the Lithuanian politician, Zygimantas Pavilionis, who spent three days in Tbilisi trying to mitigate the crisis, as unacceptable interference into the affairs of sovereign country.

Police used gas against peaceful protestors, vandalised the building and stole the UNM main server and archive.

What can Brussels do?

What is the way forward and what can the European Union do to push Georgia towards resolving the deep political impasse it has entered?

So far the EU has been vocal in supporting a dialogue, but its message has been mostly calibrated to convince the opposition to end the parliamentary boycott.

This tactic has back-fired as the government has decided to go down the path of political repressions, rather than freeing already existing political prisoners, such as Giorgi Rurua, share-holder of an independent TV channel and supporter of the youth protest movement and ending other politically motivated cases, including the one against Melia, which would make an agreement more likely.

It is time to review the strategy.

Georgia is beyond the point when the negotiations can save the rigged elections of 2020.

The European Union needs to send a strong message to the Georgian government that all cases against the politicians and representatives of independent media have to end. It also has to help the parties to negotiate the only solution-early parliamentary elections and the way forward towards preparing for them-including electoral reform and possibly constitutional changes, to help Georgia's failing democracy.

Those should be the messages which Charles Michel, president of the European Council, scheduled to visit Georgia next month, brings to Tbilisi.

The alternative is deepening of political crisis, civic unrest, and danger, that the next change of government will not take place within the framework of elections, undermining the substantial investment the European Union has made in stability and democracy in this region.

With still on-going transition period and complex agenda facing new administration in Washington, the European Union can and should take a lead in helping Georgia out of this crisis.

Author bio

Salome Samadashvili is a former ambassador to the EU for Georgia, and an MP with the United National Movement party.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Georgia's 'rigged' elections? Takeaways for the EU

The parliamentary elections took place amid the Covid-19 pandemic but sparked hopes among Georgia's western allies that the electoral deal reached with the help of US and EU officials could pacify the deeply-polarised political actors. But actually the opposite happened.

Does EU have role in stopping backsliding in Georgia?

The EU's eastern neighbourhood is in flux. The collapse of the pro-reform government in Moldova and the stagnation of anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine was recently followed yet by another political crisis in Georgia.

EU alarmed by anti-LGBTIQ riot in Georgia

Most EU countries, including Hungary, have voiced solidarity with LGBTIQ protesters in Georgia after a violent mob halted their Pride march on Monday.

A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan

Tokayev received congratulations on his election victory from presidents Xi, Putin, Erdogan, and Lukashenko. However, the phone in the Akorda, Kazakhstan's presidential palace, did not ring with congratulatory calls from Berlin, Paris, London, or Washington.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us